Kit Harington and Emily Browning fall in love in the action-packed blockbuster Pompeii
British director Paul WS Anderson embraces the hoary cliches of the disaster movie with this unintentionally amusing swords and sandals epic set in the shadow of a grumbling Mount Vesuvius.
Not since the summer of 1997, when Dante’s Peak and Volcano went head-to-head at the box office, has the fiery wrath of Mother Nature been unleashed with such pyrotechnic-laden fury.
Anderson certainly understands the mechanics of an outrageous action sequence and he engineers some humdingers as fiery rocks rain down on Pompeii’s stricken inhabitants.
A prolonged climax expertly cuts together aerial shots of devastation with close-ups of the scantily clad cast falling victim to magma and a tsunami, systematically cutting off the various escape routes until the only option left is to run.
As the city tumbles to its corrupt foundations, the three scriptwriters insist on finding reasons for the two-dimensional characters to delay their exodus.
Consequently, one gladiatorial slave tells his pal, “I’ll get the horses,” and heads to the stables, which were ready to collapse before the first rumble from Vesuvius.
A prologue set in Northern Britannia AD62 introduces a boy called Milo (Dylan Schombing), who witnesses the murder of his parents at the hands of corrupt Roman senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) and sadistic henchman Proculus (Sasha Roiz).
Seventeen years later, Milo (now played by Kit Harington) has blossomed into a merciless killing machine in the gladiatorial arena.
He catches the eye of slave master Graecus (Joe Pingue), who seeks a worthy opponent for undefeated champion Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) at the forthcoming games in Pompeii.
Milo is dragged to the ill-fated city where his rock hard abs induce a lusty swoon in Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of wealthy merchant Severus (Jared Harris) and his wife Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss).
Unfortunately, Corvus has his beady eye on Cassia and the scheming senator demands her hand in marriage in return for Pompeii’s rejuvenation under Emperor Titus.
As the games begin, Vesuvius erupts and Milo and Atticus use their physical prowess to escape with terrified Cassia in tow.
Fittingly, Pompeii is built on the shaky foundations of a ramshackle script that doesn’t flesh out any of the characters in any sufficient detail to make us care about their fates.
Harington sports a sweat-glistened six-pack that will make gym bunnies weep with envy but he is unable to deliver any of his clunky lines with conviction.
Browning simpers while Sutherland merrily chews scenery, wolfishly telling Cassia, “Beauty like yours has no place in a holiday resort like this.”
Action scenes are both thrilling and hilariously preposterous and the romantic subplot twixt Milo and Cassia falls woefully short of the sweeping tragedy of Titanic to which Anderson evidently aspires.
BAD NEIGHBOURS (15)
As a long-running Antipodean soap opera repeatedly reminds us, “Everybody needs good neighbours with a little understanding.”
The married 30-somethings at the centre of Nicholas Stoller’s potty-mouthed comedy wish they were so fortunate.
They wake one morning to discover the new neighbours are booze-guzzling fraternity boys, who throw raucous parties for their fellow students and hold barbecues on the front lawn.
Relations between the two households deteriorate in the blink of a bloodshot eye, lighting the fuse on a battle of wits and mean-spirited pranks that provides Bad Neighbours with its flimsy premise.
Seth Rogen might have top billing on the film’s posters but it’s Zac Efron’s naked torso which scene-steals to the point of absurdity, reaching a delirious crescendo with some gratuitous topless modelling by the High School Musical heartthrob during a touchy feely coda.
In the spirit of gender equality, the script warrants a topless scene from leading lady Rose Byrne for a protracted gross-out gag about her first-time mother urgently needing to express breast milk to easy the pressure in her swollen lady cushions.
“Be a man and milk me!” she barks.
Lactose-intolerant audiences should avert their gaze.
Mac Radner (Rogen) and his wife Kelly (Byrne) have just welcomed a beautiful daughter into the world and they struggle to cope with the responsibilities of parenthood.
When the house next door goes up for sale and a fraternity led by president Teddy Sanders (Efron) and second-in-command Pete (Dave Franco) moves in, the Radners fear the worst.
They pay a visit to the new neighbours and politely ask Teddy to keep the noise down.
In return, the couple promises not to call the cops at the first sign of trouble but to approach Teddy to resolve any issues.
“A promise is a big thing for me,” he tells the Radners.
During a party, Mac and Kelly break their promise and dial 911. A neighbourhood cop (Hannibal Buress) turns up at the fraternity’s front door. Teddy is incensed and masterminds a suitable punishment for the Radners’ betrayal.
In retaliation, Mac and Kelly plot ways to force the dean, Carol Gladstone (Lisa Kudrow), to evict the students from their once peaceful community.
Bad Neighbours goes some way to besmirching Efron’s screen image as the wholesome, squeaky clean boy next door.
However, scriptwriters Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien provide the actor with a get-out clause so his character ultimately remains likeable, showing a sensitive side to one new member of the frat house (Craig Roberts) when he thinks no one else is looking.
Rogen has played a pot-smoking dude before and he gamely sheds his clothes for toe-curling scenes of coitus interruptus with Byrne.
Scenes inside the frat house, where Pete inspires devotion from pledges with a heartfelt speech (“We are the family you get to choose - and we don’t get divorced!”) are surprisingly tame despite the 15 certificate.
TARZAN 3D (PG)
Since his debut on the pages of a 1912 magazine, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ fictional ape man has swung into the affections of successive generations thanks to re-imaginings on the small and big screens.
Former Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller famously portrayed the heroic king of the jungle during the 1930s and 1940s, flanked by his plucky chimpanzee sidekick Cheeta.
And most recently, Disney immortalised literary myth as an animation feature, a short-lived Broadway musical, spin-off TV series and video games.
Now it falls to German filmmaker Reinhard Klooss to put a distinctly modern spin on Burroughs’ source text.
Don’t be misled by the colourful visuals of this computer-animated adventure and early scenes of comical monkey business.
This adaptation isn’t a cutesy caper aimed predominantly at children.
Tragedy stalks every frame and a couple of sequences, which result in the demise of pivotal characters, could be too scary for the very young.
To enforce the film’s modern sensibilities, a rousing burst of Coldplay’s anthem Paradise accompanies Tarzan and Jane’s romantic swim, replete with longing glances as the protagonists splash about in the water.
John Greystoke (voiced by Mark Deklin) ventures deep into the jungle with his wife Alice (Jaime Ray Newman) and their young son to search for the impact site of an ancient meteorite, which is rumoured to possess immense power.
By chance, as the Greystokes leave the jungle in their helicopter, they stumble upon the meteorite but magnetic interference propels the craft into the mountainside, killing everyone on board except the young Greystoke heir.
The child is rescued and raised by apes and is rechristened Tarzan.
As an adult, Tarzan (now voiced by Kellan Lutz) encounters humans once again when beautiful environmentalist Jane Porter (Spencer Locke) arrives in the jungle with William Clayton (Trevor St John), the Machiavellian new CEO of Greystoke Energies.
He also seeks the elusive meteorite and its limitless power and hopes that Jane’s father Jim (Les Bubb) will help him.
Tarzan is a slick yet unsatisfying reworking that struggles to marry the legend with a perplexing subtext about mankind’s unsustainable depletion of the earth’s resources.
Lutz beats his chest on cue to deliver his hero’s iconic cry and stilted dialogue including, “Me Tarzan, you Jane”.
Locke essays a spunky heroine but she’s poorly served by the flimsy script while St John’s pantomime villain encourages the audience to hiss and boo his every underhand move.
The introduction of the mysterious meteorite to the jungle is an unwelcome distraction that draws parallels with the extra-terrestrial mumbo jumbo in the fourth Indiana Jones film.
An unhappy marriage of something old, something new – that leaves us feeling blue.